The most famous Indian teas originate from two very different regions: the dizzying altitudes of Darjeelingand the tropical river plains of Assam.
India does nothing in small doses. Its culture is colorful, its landscapes lush, its food boldly spicy, its cities teeming with people – and as for tea, the South Asian nation is very nearly the largest producer and consumer of tea in the world. Only northern neighbor China beats them at that game. Given the massive importance of tea in today’s India, it’s hard to believe that large-scale tea cultivation only began there in the 1820s with the efforts of the British colonizers. Seeking to end their dependency on China, the British smuggled Chinese tea seeds and poached China’s cultivation methods to successfully set up their own tea cultivation empire. Today, Indians drink up 70% of their home-grown tea, though this is a surprisingly new development – local tea consumption only took off in a big way after a 1950s ad campaign from the India Tea Board.
The most famous Indian teas originate from two very different regions: the dizzying altitudes of Darjeelingand the tropical river plains of Assam. The thin mountain air of the former, where tea farms are terraced into the foothills of the Himalayas, leads to bright, floral, fruity notes in the resulting brew, a flavor profile that the British quickly chose as their favorite for afternoon tea. Like the legal protections France sought for its champagne, a tea can only be called a Darjeeling if it’s grown in that precise region. P & T’s Queen's Grace, with nutty and floral flavor notes, is a shining example of Darjeeling’s famed black teas, though the area produces delicate white teas as well.
Down south near the Bangladeshi border, meanwhile, the heavy rainfall and rich floodplain soil of Assam produce India’s other famed tea. The region’s wet, dense climate produces black teas with a distinctively malty taste, one that the British took to as a hearty breakfast brew. After Southern China, the Assam region has historically been the most prolific tea region in the world, and not coincidentally, these are also the only two regions in the world where the camellia sinensis tea plant is a native species. So important is tea to the region that Assam has its own time zone, known as Tea Garden Time, set an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time to let tea pickers take advantage of the early sunrise and maximize working hours. Earthy-rich Tip of the Morning will satisfy tastes for an archetypally malty Assam, while the gold-tipped leaves of precious second-flush Nandana unfold into a honey-like brew.